Fans have been waiting 14 years to see more of the Parr family's adventures. How does The Incredibles 2 stack up with the hype and expectations? As just a movie in general, it turns out this sequel is absolutely wonderful, blowing this summer's other blockbusters thus far out of the water in terms of how fun it is. It's easily the best of the Pixar sequels not in the Toy Story series. You're almost certain to have a great time at the movies. As far as how it compares to the original 2004 movie... well, it doesn't quite make it to that level.
It's not a huge step down, though. It actually does a number of things just as good if not better than the first Incredibles. If the first movie's an A+ by any standard, the second's somewhere in the range from a B (if you're weighing the scale by Pixar's high standards) to an A- (if weighing by a more general blockbuster fun scale). There's a lot to praise about this long awaited sequel, but also some things worth picking apart. Here's a list of The Incredibles 2's eight best qualities, as well as seven ways it fails to surpass the original.
15 BETTER: THE ANIMATION
The Incredibles 2 has the best animation of any of the Pixar movies yet. We're long past the point where each new Pixar movie was a revolution in what computer animation could do, but the combination of incremental technical improvements with outstanding stylization means The Incredibles 2 is indeed incredible to look at, even by Pixar's extraordinarily high standards. The first movie still holds up 14 years later on the strength of its 1950s retro Disney/UPA-inspired design work and being the first Pixar film to really figure out how to appealingly animate human characters. The sequel retains the original's sense of style, pushing the boldness of the graphic design ever further while combining it with updates in texture and lighting to produce something constantly jaw-dropping.
What's extra impressive about the animation is how much storytelling and character development it accomplishes based on movement and expression alone. Even a simple eye or mouth movement can get the audience laughing. There's physical comedy here that would make Chuck Jones proud. Every scene accomplishes visually what it sets out to do perfectly. The animation quality being so utterly exceptional manages to do a lot of heavy lifting, elevating the overall experience when other aspects of the movie aren't quite as perfect.
14 WORSE: PREDICTABILITY
The plotline of The Incredibles 2 is functional, entertaining and as solidly constructed as we've come to expect from the Brain Trust at Pixar. What it isn't, though, is unpredictable. It's not a copy of the first movie, but the story beats are similar enough to the original that even kids familiar it will have a pretty strong idea of where exactly this sequel ends up going. There are new story elements introduced keeping things different from the first, but those elements still end up having a sense of inevitability to them. You have an idea of how things will end up when the movie starts, and those ideas turn out right by the end.
It's worth comparing this to how other Pixar sequels have dealt with issues of originality and predictability. Toy Story 2 remains the high standard for introducing unexpected complications into an old formula, while Toy Story 3 used its sense of preordained inevitability to actually increase tension and anxiety. Monsters University and Finding Dory are interesting to compare to The Incredibles 2. They're weaker movies overall, and long stretches of both are far more repetitive than The Incredibles 2 becomes. Yet both of those lesser follow-ups still presented genuine surprise endings: "it's OK to drop out of college" was an unexpected moral, and the fate of Dory's parents had genuine uncertainty. The Incredibles 2 technically has more "new" elements than those two movies, but it still mostly lacks the element of surprise.
13 BETTER: JACK-JACK!
The one aspect of The Incredibles 2 which is decidedly not predictable is baby Jack-Jack, and viewers of all ages can be grateful for that. It turns out Jack-Jack's powers extend even beyond that deadly combination of lighting on fire, turning into metal, and demonic transformation from the final fight in the first movie. Jack-Jack's not even able to talk yet and he might be the most powerful superhero in this whole universe! The movie regularly introduces new powers of his at opportune moments, continually keeping both Mr. Incredible and the viewers on their toes.
The ways Jack-Jack uses his seemingly infinite supply of special abilities never stops being hilarious. There's a scene where he fights a raccoon in the backyard and it's the funniest thing in the movie, maybe even the funniest single scene in any Pixar movie since Mr. Potatohead became a tortilla in Toy Story 3. It would not be a surprise if Pixar releases a full "Jack Jack vs. the raccoon" short film as part of the movie's Blu-Ray/DVD release. Where the first film fully developed the rest of the Parr family's powers as metaphors, it's how Mr. Incredible has to deal with Jack-Jack's powers which makes for the sequel's strongest metaphor for the anxieties of parenting.
12 WORSE: LESS OF THE KIDS
One of the best things about the first Incredibles was the way every character had a full well-rounded story arc. The parents were the main characters, but Violet learning to control her powers and Dash getting the opportunity to embrace his made for subplots just as compelling as Mr. Incredible's mid-life crisis and Elastigirl's struggles with domesticity. It was a true family movie where every member of the family was important to the movie's success. The second movie, however, places an even greater emphasis on the parents. While it's certainly respectable that Brad Bird wants to make cartoons about adult struggles, it's a little disappointing that he sidelines Dash and Violet this time.
Violet does have a pretty interesting story dealing with the ways her dad ends up unwittingly interfering with her love life, but the movie looks at this drama primarily from her dad's perspective. The story ends up being more about parenting a teenager than being a teenager. Dash doesn't even get that much of a story arc (needing help with math homework doesn't cut it). The kids play an important role in the action of the film's final act, but even so they're still very much supporting characters without hero's journeys of their own.
11 BETTER: CHALLENGING GENDER ROLES
The Incredibles 2 presents a reversal on the family dynamics of the first movie: in this one, it's Elastigirl who's called into action while Mr. Incredible is at home taking care of the kids. The way the trailers introduced this premise got some people concerned: was this movie just going to be dated stereotypical jokes making fun of stay-at-home dads? Thankfully that's not the case. Mr. Incredible struggles at times with being a stay-at-home parent, but it doesn't feel like the movie's laughing at him any gendered sort of way. This is a movie which celebrates stay-at-home dads and working moms.
It's great that Elastigirl is the one chosen to reintroduce superheroes to the public, and that she's chosen because she is in fact the best person for the job in terms of actually rescuing people safely (her husband's smashiness causes a bit too much collateral damage). Mr. Incredible might feel his ego wounded by the decision, but he's not broken up about it; he supports his wife's success and comes to accept his own new responsibilities. The script acknowledges the existence of sexism as a reason why heroes like Elastigirl have been overlooked in the past, but by simply and directly presenting positive non-traditional role models for both men and women, it manages to simply be progressive without ever making a major deal of its own progressiveness.
10 WORSE: THE VILLAIN
This article won't say who the main villain in The Incredibles 2 is for the sake of avoiding spoilers. Really, though, you'll be able to figure out who it is long before the movie reveals it. Said secret villain is pretty cool despite the obviousness of the reveal, so this isn't really a complaint about The Incredibles 2 so much as praise for the villain of The Incredibles. Syndrome was simply an amazing villain, easily the best one from any of the Pixar movies.
You could feel bad for Syndrome and how Mr. Incredible callously crushed his dreams as a child. At the same time, the vengeful sociopathic rage with which he responded to this sympathetic pain made him clearly beyond any redemption and made it easy to delight in his defeat. Like any great supervillain, he's a dark reflection of the heroes he faces. Even when he wants to do something potentially good, like making technological superpowers available to the public, it comes from such a self-serving place that you can't sympathize with him too much. Still a superhero fanboy even as he dedicates himself to destroying what he loves, Syndrome was both funny enough to be entertaining and scary enough to be genuinely threatening, and more than a bit too recognizable for anyone familiar with how fandom can turn bad.
9 BETTER: MORE FROZONE
Aside from a few critics who read some controversial but completely unintentional political messages into the film, most audience members left The Incredibles with few if any complaints. One minor criticism which was voiced by a good number of people, however, was that there simply wasn't enough screentime for Frozone. You cast Samuel L. Jackson, one of the coolest actors in the world, as a superhero with ice powers and the funniest dialogue in the movie ("Honey, where is my supersuit?") and give him barely any screentime? Preposterous!
The Incredibles 2 will certainly please those who wanted more of Frozone. While in the first film he was mainly just Mr. Incredible's friend, here he's grown closer to the whole family, to the point the kids call him their "uncle." His powers end up being very useful throughout the film's action scenes. There's a greater sense of his significance in this universe's history; Usher makes a cameo as Frozone's "biggest fan" which emphasizes the impact he's had on people. Those hoping for more of his off-screen wife, however, might still be disappointed; her line in the trailers is her only line in the movie.
8 WORSE: LOWER STAKES
One of the most notable aspects of The Incredibles which made it stand out from other family movies was just how dark it was willing to get. Today that might not seem special, as every big kids movie gets a PG rating for "some action and crude humor" or "mild thematic elements" or whatever excuse they give not to get the dreaded G rating. Back in 2004, however, The Incredibles was the first Pixar film to be rated PG, genuinely earning the rating. The stakes were intense, with Syndrome essentially attempting a genocide. One of the most chilling scenes had Elastigirl warning her kids that the villains they were about to face weren't Saturday morning cartoon characters and "won't exercise restraint because you are children. They will kill you if they get the chance."
The Incredibles 2 still has some sense of danger. There's plenty of comic book violence and action, and major potential threats. Where it feels weaker than the first movie is that those threats pretty much just stay potential. Syndrome had already killed dozens of superheroes before the Incredibles stopped him; the risks were clearly demonstrated. The Incredibles 2 feels cleaner in comparison; people could die, but they don't. Some of this is just due to how the plot works, with the villain intentionally keeping things "easy" for the heroes at first, but a bit more serious threat could go a long way.
7 BETTER: NEW SUPERHEROES
In the first film, it was clear there were a lot of creative ideas for superheroes stuck on the margins. You got glimpses of these fun concepts in the crowd at the Incredibles' wedding, in the "no capes" montage and in the computer files listing Syndrome's casualties. If you were looking to actually know about these characters, however, you were pretty much out of luck. The movie's focus was entirely on the Incredibles family with some Frozone on the side. The new sequel introduces a bunch of new superheroes, and while none of them are major characters, they're entertaining and do a good job fleshing out the film's ensemble.
Voyd is almost certain to become the fan favorite of these new heroes. Her powers, almost certainly inspired by the game Portal, are a lot of fun to watch. Lots of people are going to want to cosplay her, and certain fans are bound to latch onto a certain apparent subtext in her extra-enthusiastic fangirling over Elastigirl. Screech (a guy with owl-based powers), Brick (a muscular woman with a decidedly different body type than your average Disney/Pixar character) and Reflux (guess his deal) are also entertaining stand-outs among the new class of heroes.
6 WORSE: LESS EMOTIONAL CONFLICT
The heart of the first Incredibles was the story of a family coming together through personal strife. Mr. Incredible felt his wife's insistence on law-abiding normality was holding him back from his past greatness. Elastigirl couldn't trust her increasingly secretive husband and feared he was cheating on her. Both were protective of each other and their kids, but sometimes excessively or condescendingly so. Seeing this whole family overcome such struggles and save the world together gave the movie a lot of heart on top of its entertainment value.
That story's already been told, however, and the new family story in The Incredibles 2 is a lot less intense. In this regard, the people who argued a sequel was unnecessary due to the first film telling a complete story are kind of right. After a little bit of conflict, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl come to an understanding about their new roles very quickly. Aside from dealing with fall-out from Violet about one genuinely bad decision, Mr. Incredible's struggles managing his kids' lives are all more in the realm of comic annoyances rather than serious drama. The character dynamics are well written, but lacking the spark that made the first movie one of Pixar's all-time best.
5 BETTER: THE SHORT BEFORE THE MOVIE
OK, this technically isn't part of The Incredibles 2, but it's absolutely a reason to see the movie in theaters, maybe even the best reason. The short in front of the first Incredibles' theatrical release, Boundin', was one of Pixar's weaker efforts, not particularly funny, cute or interesting. In contrast, Bao, the short in front of The Incredibles 2, might very well be Pixar's best short film ever. Domee Shi is the first woman to direct any Pixar project from start to finish (Brenda Chapman was fired midway through the production of Brave). Based on her work here, she absolutely deserves to have a huge, successful career ahead of her.
Without spoiling the plot of this film, let's just say it combines the storytelling efficiency of the opening of Up with the emotional concerns of the Toy Story movies and the foodie appeal of Ratatouille. It might make you cry over a cartoon dumpling, of all things! This short has all the emotional power and heart that's the biggest missing ingredient in the otherwise enjoyable movie that follows it. Placing your bets next year for the winner of the Best Animated Short Subject Oscar just got a whole lot easier.
4 WORSE: LESS THEMATIC COHERENCE
The first Incredibles is a thematically complex film, using each of its characters to deal with different issues. Nevertheless, as distinctive as each of the character's concerns are, the movie tied all of their arcs together with a strong inciting incident: the banning of superheroics and the subsequent struggle with normalcy. Each of the Parr family's issues were all different manifestations of this struggle with family life. Mr. Incredible tried to recapture past glory in secret, Elastigirl forced herself into embracing domesticity before letting go of it, Violet struggled with anxiety over her powers and Dash sought opportunity to show off what he's capable of. The film presented a variety of perspectives while combining these stories to present a specific world view.
The Incredibles 2 doesn't have any such singular concept tying all of its various smaller concerns together. It's still got a lot to say, but it's all over the place in how it says it. Mr. Incredible's parenting challenges have nothing thematically to do with Elastigirl's mission to legalize superheroics, and even those individual stories cover so many assorted ideas that it's hard to say what the thesis of it all is. IndieWire's David Ehrlich put it accurately in describing the film's storytelling method as "throw 12 conflicting ideas into direct competition with each other & roll with whatever themes survive the story."
3 BETTER: THE CREDITS
The credits sequences of Pixar movies are always some of the best around. Long before Marvel Studios made sitting through the end of the credits for an extra scene standard practice, Pixar has been doing creative things with their credits sequences ever since A Bug's Life in 1998. For that movie, as well as Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc., Pixar made fake blooper reels, but starting with Finding Nemo in 2003, the studio decided to get more creative and specific with its credits sequences, giving each individual movie its own distinct identity. The Incredibles was one of the best of these, the bold Saul Bass-inspired 2D animated recreations of the film's 3D action sequences making for a strong send-off. The Incredibles 2 presents a similar credits sequence as one might expect.
So what makes The Incredibles 2's credits so much better? Two words: theme songs. Yep, this time if you sit through the whole credits sequence, even past the animated bit at the beginning of the credits, you get to hear the full retro '70s TV-style theme songs for Elastigirl, Frozone and Mr. Incredible which were only teased earlier in the movie. The Frozone theme is particularly funky and catchy. So, just like the movie itself, The Incredibles 2's credits sequence is very similar to its predecessor, but there's something new and fun here to make it worth your while.
2 WORSE: NOT AS INSIGHTFUL ABOUT SUPERHEROES
Many comic book fans astutely compared The Incredibles to a cross between Fantastic Four and Watchmen. In this combination, the Fantastic Four ethos ultimately wins out over Watchmen's cynicism. The set-ups of both The Incredibles and Watchmen are incredibly similar, both involving public opinion forcing superheroes underground. The big difference between the two works is that Watchmen posits that superheroes in the real world would in fact be a bad thing and not actually heroic, whereas The Incredibles is pro-superheroes, seeing the gifted's ability to protect the defenseless as a matter of moral necessity.
In a few scattered moments, The Incredibles 2 elaborates on the first film's perspective on superheroes in some interesting ways. It posits the assumption that all power corrupts as a failure of imagination often stemming from those already both powerful and corrupt. It also offers something of a comedic rebuke to those critics who misinterpreted the first film's message as "bow before your superiors." However, this sequel's not saying that much the first film didn't already, and it does so in a much more scattershot way. Even on the lighter "superpowers as family metaphors" level, the only real new ground the film explores is Jack-Jack's out of control acquisition of abilities. This compares unfavorably with how the three Toy Story films were actually able to expand and develop their messages as the series progressed.
1 BETTER/EQUAL: THE ACTION
Maybe it's not accurate to say The Incredibles 2 has better action than the first Incredibles. The new film has better animation, yes, but the first film's action scenes are still amazingly directed and a ton of fun. What has changed is the superhero film landscape. We are certainly not lacking in superhero action in 2018. However, it's notable just lacking so many of these movies are from an action perspective. Marvel's improving at action overall, and certainly knows how to pull out the stops for some epic battles, but in general people love its films much more for the characters and writing than the action. The DCEU, meanwhile, receives a ton of criticism for generic action. Even a film as great as Wonder Woman couldn't escape a bland climax.
In this landscape, The Incredibles 2 arrives as a breath of fresh air. All the action scenes are beautiful, exciting, inventive and frequently quite funny. When so many "live-action" films turn into weightless CGI-fests when the heroes and villains fight, it's stunning how much more entertainingly an entirely CGI movie handles such scenes. Even as special effects improve, The Incredibles 2, alongside films like Batman Ninja and hopefully Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, proves that animation is the best way to capture the boundless imagination of great superhero action.